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1945: Japan bombs Saskatchewan

The Story

On Jan. 12, 1945, 15-year old Ralph Melle of Regina witnessed the Japanese bombing of Saskatchewan. "We stepped on one... it was covered up but it never went off," he remembers in this clip. The only casualty was a fence. The bombs were part of a bizarre initiative carried out by the Japanese during the Second World War. From 1944 to 1945, Japan's Special Balloon Regiment launched more than 9,000 balloons filled with bombs. The balloon bombs were targeted at the Pacific Northwest of North America to start forest fires as well as divert resources and create public panic. Some made it far further east.

Medium: Radio
Program: World Report
Broadcast Date: Feb. 7, 2005
Guest(s): Tony Frischholz, Ralph Melle
Host: Judy Maddren
Reporter: Pat Hume
Duration: 1:59
Photo: National Museum of the United States Air Force

Did You know?

• Balloon bombs were 10 metres in diameter and held about 540 cubic metres of hydrogen.


• Of the 9,000 balloon bombs that were launched from Japan, only 300 made it to North America. The reason for the poor success rate was the weak antifreeze used in the balloons, which failed to prevent the batteries from freezing.

• Balloon bombs were discovered as far as Alaska and Texas as well as in Mexico and Canada.

• The sole lethal attack of the balloon bombs took place in May 1945. A minister's wife and five children, aged 11 to 14, were killed when bombs exploded in the woods in Oregon.

• Fewer than 100 balloon bombs landed on Canada. British Columbia had the second-largest number of balloon bombs dropped in North America. The largest number of bombs fell in Oregon.

• In Canada, balloon bombs were discovered in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

• The last balloon bomb was launched in April 1945.

• In 1955, the last known lethal balloon was discovered in Alaska.

• Although the bombs caused little damage, officials in North America worried about the bombs' potential psychological effect on the public. The Canadian and U.S. governments asked the media to not publish balloon bomb incidents. As a result, the Japanese only learned of one bomb reaching Wyoming, landing and failing to explode. The balloon bombs were dubbed a failure and the Japanese quickly abandoned the campaign after six months.

Also on January 12:
1912: The Financial Post is first published by John Bayne Maclean, who also founded Maclean's magazine. The Financial Post is now part of the National Post newspaper.
1916: An order-in-council decrees that the number of Canadian soldiers in the First World War will be increased to 500,000.
1953: Archbishop Paul-Émile Léger of Montreal is made a cardinal.
1977: Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn become the first Canadian dancers to perform with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.
1995: Canadian Neil Young is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.



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